How to paint beautiful sunsets

How to paint beautiful sunsets:

Photo of a beautiful African sunset

Photo of a beautiful South African sunset

This particular sunset was over a Kendal farm, on the East Rand, Transvaal, South Africa.

Taking photos of sunsets:

I haven’t a HD camera, so I either focus my camera on the sky or land. In this case I concentrated on the sky – that is why the land part looks so dark! But been dark it allowed me to use my imagination, change things somewhat. Do you see the effect the pull of the sun rays has on the foreground grass and how I beefed up the foreground with contrasting colours? Been a watercolour naturally you don’t get the same quality as an photograph.

Watercolour of beautiful sunset

Colourful watercolour of the beautiful sunset

Here are a few suggestions on how to paint beautiful sunset paintings:

  • Basically contrast of tone and colour.
  • Inter-relationship of cool and warm colours.
  • How to get the glow effect: Allow contrast of complementary grays and fresh clean colours to ride side-by-side, eg: white bright sun area, fresh ‘silver-lining’ and neutral colours of the cloud’s body, in that order.
  • Focus point: Contrast of sharp-edges and contour lines, competing with smooth gradated edges or shapes.
  • Quiet restful smooth areas of gradated colour and tone.
  • Departmental placement of tonal areas:  That is basically one area light, one area medium tones, and one area dark. This reduces confusion and improves perception.
  • Placement of detailed description: Usually set within one of the departmental tonal areas. This dramatizes the scene, sets the theme, introduces the location, tells a story, etc.
  • Simplicity: If there are tiny cloud formations, where possible group them with similar characteristics.
  • Selective pigments: For example if you interlace the blue of the sky and yellow of the sun rays or ‘silver-lining’, you will get green where you don’t want it. Rather use an earth pigment such as raw sienna instead of fresh-chrome yellows.
  • Relax, paint freely. Allow your painting to develop naturally. Don’t take yourself seriously -otherwise your sunset will look contrived.
  • Not every scene is the same: Use some or all of the above aspects.

If you want to see another sunset photo demo, check out Sunset in the bush.

Please let me know in your estimation what you think makes a beautiful sunset painting. Have you any additional tips to share with other artists about painting sunsets?

Sunsets in the Bush

Sunsets in the bush photo:

Photo of Sunsets in the bush

Photo of a sunset in the bush, South Africa.

`Sunsets in the bush’ was inspired by the beauty of the South African bush on the Springbok Flats. Each day about five o’clock I set out to see what sunset photographs I could collect.

Red sunset skies don’t always occur every day. Did you know beautiful sunsets are actually created because of dust, dust that drives housewives crazy! In South Africa we have beautiful sunsets. During winter the velt (grasslands) is usually dry and dusty.

Clouds were gathering when I took this photograph. With my camera, to take sunset photos, I reduce the `contrast’ format on my camera to minus five, and then aim just next to the bright sun.  How much you see of the velt (grass) and the quality of the silhouettes depends on whether your camera is pointing closer to the sky area or just below the horizon.

Watercolour demo:

Watercolour: sunsets in the bush

Watercolour of a sunset in the bush, on the Springbok Flats.

When painting sunsets, contrasts of tone and colour are important to make them dramatic. Before filling in the darker tones the painting looks washed out. Once the dark trees, bush foliage and dead tree trunks are filled in, the sunset starts to come alive. Playing warm colours against cool colours gives the painting emotion.

I didn’t begin with an imprimatura wash. I needed the white of the paper, especially where the sun is setting. Smooth washes and gradating the colours is created by keeping the paper wet as long as possible. Then waiting for the paper and painting to dry, before adding the silhouette formations of the bush. The foreground grass is done last, applied in impressionistic style.

Note the silver-lining of the clouds in this image-file looks orange. In the actual painting the silver-lining is yellow. Computer programs don’t always do justice to your paintings. I find this frustrating when posting images of my paintings in my blogs. Do you have the same problem?

Please leave a comment:

I would like to hear from you. My website is mainly for artists, but I hope art-lovers and non-artists will enjoy the interesting facts about the South African scenes I paint. Posting blogs seems a waste of time unless you feel you are actually helping someone, been informative or fascinating enough for folks out there to get something out of it. Best regards, Ada.

Free expression

Sunset at Meisievlei, near Settlers, Transvaal, South Africa.

Here is another sunset watercolour painting, also of the Springbok Flats. It was done about a year ago.